Substance and Procedure in Discourse Ethics and Deliberative Democracy

Dissertation, New School for Social Research (2003)

Pablo Gilabert
Concordia University
In this dissertation, I argue that we should reframe the presentation and defense of the program of discourse ethics and deliberative democracy (DEP) in such a way that we make clear its connection to the substantive moral ideas of solidarity, equality and freedom. This program basically says that we should, when we can, determine the validity of the norms regulating our social life through practices of public deliberation. If we want to understand why engaging in public deliberation makes moral sense, or is obligatory, we need to make explicit the connection between the formal procedures of deliberation and our most basic substantive moral ideas of freedom, equality and solidarity. In order to unpack this claim, I construct what I call an expressive-elaboration model of the relation between substance and procedure in public deliberation. According to this model, we should see the two dimensions as working in tandem, in such a way that deliberative procedures are understood as the medium of expression and elaboration of our basic substantive ideas of solidarity, equality and freedom. The three ideas are expressed in the fact and form of deliberation, and elaborated in their changing and specific interpretations as topics and consequences of deliberative practices. To develop this model, I start with a consideration of certain insights of Kant's moral theory, and proceed to bridge the gap between Habermas's more formalistic and Rawls's more substantive neo-Kantian accounts of practical reason. The result is a straightforwardly substantive articulation and defense of the dialogic procedures of DEP based on the recognition of the fact of widespread moral disagreement and a fundamental project of justice demanding that we deal with that condition of disagreement by constructing social arrangements in which we include each other, solidaristically, as free and equal members. This morally substantive defense of DEP referring to the fact of widespread moral disagreement and the fundamental project of justice is different from, and more compelling than, other common, formalistic and prudential defenses of DEP.
Keywords discourse ethics  deliberative democracy  Habermas  Rawls  Proceduralism
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